City to expand body camera program for Chicago Police officers

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Chicago Police Officer Michael Edens shows off one of the first body cameras used by Chicago Police. | Frank Main/Sun-Times

The city will equip Chicago Police officers with 1,400 body cameras in a major expansion of a yearlong pilot program designed to boost oversight of cops as protesters have blasted the department for incidents such as an officer’s videotaped killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

Since January, officers have been testing 30 body cameras in the Shakespeare District on the Northwest Side.

Following a Sun-Times story last week that the slow-moving pilot program was showing promising results but was only expected to move into one more district in January, city officials have announced they will expand the program into six more police districts throughout Chicago by mid-2016.

Taser International was the vendor for the first phase of the body camera program. Former police Supt. Terry Hillard is a lobbyist for Taser in Chicago, records show.

The city is now planning to test a new-generation Taser camera against other manufacturers’ devices. Then the city will select a contractor to supply the 1,400 cameras next year. The new cameras will be paid for with a $1.1 million U.S. Department of Justice grant matched by $1.1 million in city funds.

“Expanding this successful program into one-third of the city will help enhance transparency and credibility as well as strengthen the fabric of trust that is vital between police and the community,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement.

So far this year, more than 4,600 videos have been captured on body cams, totaling more than 745 hours. No citizen complaints have been filed against officers wearing the cameras, officials said.

Starting in February, the city will buy cameras that can record up to 72 hours on a single charge in high-definition. The new cameras can double as in-vehicle recording devices, officials said. The University of Illinois at Chicago will evaluate the cameras.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and other civil-rights groups have supported the use of body cameras to provide more information about officers’ interactions with the public. The cameras can exonerate officers from citizens’ complaints or confirm wrongdoing occurred.

“Cameras have been shown to reduce citizen complaints against police and are great tools for evidence gathering and training as they allow us to learn from actual encounters with the public,” police Supt. Garry McCarthy said.

President Barack Obama has been pushing police departments across the country to use body cameras, in conjunction with dashboard cameras, to increase their oversight of officers.

A dashboard camera captured Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 16 shots into Laquan McDonald in 2014 on the South Side — prompting Cook County prosecutors last week to charge the officer with first-degree murder.

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